Accusation over Fowler waistline riles Keegan

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The Independent Football

Manchester City unveiled their new kit yesterday and the great question was whether the black and red away shirt Robbie Fowler sported was extra large. As the fireworks exploded behind the catwalk inside the City of Manchester Stadium, Fowler, who had been accused of returning to training a stone overweight, resisted the temptation to lift his jersey and expose his six pack in the way David Ginola had done during his battle against the pounds at Aston Villa.

His manager, Kevin Keegan, was clearly angered by the accusation, admitting that Fowler had returned to City's training ground at Carrington three pounds overweight, far less than some of his less high-profile colleagues. "Of the 40 players, 14 of them are either three pounds over or more. There is one eight pounds overweight, there is another six pounds,'' Keegan said. "I would definitely expect that during a summer.''

Ever since his transfer from Leeds in January, Fowler's fitness has been questioned, with some arguing he would never recapture the instinctive brilliance, which once saw him embraced as the best young striker in England. It took him three months to find the net at Maine Road last season, although Keegan pointed out that when the club performed endurance tests, Fowler came third.

"Robbie has the answers,'' Keegan said. "He is a big name player and it will be a big season for him, as it will be for a lot of players at our club. They can answer all the criticism that has been fired at them.''

Yesterday was a little early for relations between journalists and footballers to break down but reports about Fowler's weight was given as a reason why none of the four City players who modelled the new kit - which still bears the sponsorship logo of the now bankrupt insurance company First Advice - would be interviewed.

Given the identity of the models, this was hardly a surprise. Since his days at Arsenal, Nicolas Anelka has been portrayed as "Le Sulk'' by the British media. Of the summer signings, David Seaman shuns reporters, and Michael Tarnat, the left-back brought in from Bayern Munich, once declared he would rather endure a three-mile run than speak to a journalist.

There was, however, plenty for Manchester City to revel in as they enter a 48,000-seater stadium as sleek as Maine Road was shabby. As Arsenal prepare to bleed themselves white to move to Ashburton Grove, City have been presented with a lucrative and inspiring new home for the cost of the £20m needed to refurbish it after the Commonwealth Games.

Manchester City's chairman, John Wardle, pointed out that this was £20m Keegan was unable to spend. His priority is a replacement for the late Marc-Vivien Foé. Steve McManaman has been targeted but City cannot match the salary of £2m a year he is paid by Real Madrid, although Keegan does hope to bring in two more players to a club which financially stretched itself to remain in the Premiership. Had Keegan not stated City would finish in the top six, their ninth place would have been regarded as an unqualified success. Nevertheless, they may have moved ground but City have not stopped setting targets.

"The aim has to be sixth rather than ninth,'' Wardle said, stoking up the pressure more than a month before the season officially opens. "We did ninth last season and anything below that is failure.''